The Leavers

Algonquin. May 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781616206888. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616207137. F
OrangeReviewStarWinner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Ko's debut novel brings together the voices of Polly Guo, a manicurist from China, and her young son, Deming, a fifth grader. All are living happily in New York with Polly's boyfriend, Leon; his sister Vivian; and her son Michael, who is like a brother to Deming, until Polly suddenly disappears. Deming is turned over to social services and renamed Daniel Wilkinson by his foster parents, Peter and Kay. When Daniel is later reunited with Michael, the truth about Polly's whereabouts is revealed. What follows is a moving story of Daniel's search for his identity as an abandoned child and young adult in a world where he seeks to find balance as either American, Chinese, or Chinese American. Touching upon themes such as identity, determination, addiction, and loyalty, the author clearly shows readers that she is an emerging writer to watch.
VERDICT Ko's writing is strong, and her characters, whether major or minor, are skillfully developed. Readers who enjoy thoughtfully told relationship tales by authors such as Lisa See, Jamie Ford, and Nadia Hashimi will appreciate. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]
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